How Recruiters are Losing the War for Talent

How Recruiters are Losing the War for Talent

  • Posted by Stephen White
  • On July 1, 2017
  • poor interviews, recruiter behaviour, talent war, war for talent


I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently on the so-called “War for Talent”.  The line of argument goes something like this:

  • ‘Baby Boomers” will be retiring in huge numbers over the next few years.
  • There are huge skills gaps emerging in the workplace, and not just in the IT field;
  • Companies have to get aggressive and creative in order to hire the best people who will be in high demand.

If all of this is true, and I don’t dispute the logic, then why do Recruiters exhibit such appalling behaviour towards applicants?

In the course of one week recently I heard the following:

  • Several people told me about being interviewed for positions, and advised that they would be contacted by the Recruiter within a week regarding their candidacy.  Several weeks elapsed and these people still hadn’t heard a thing;
  • One individual contacted a Recruiter twenty-six times and left messages inquiring about the status of her candidacy.  She never received a reply;
  • One candidate relocated to another city two hundred miles away after being made an employment offer by a search firm consultant, only to find out afterwards that the job offer would not be forthcoming;
  • A recruiter set up an interview with a candidate a week ahead of schedule, and then called her the morning of the interview to say he had hired someone already and that the interview was cancelled;
  • One applicant was kept waiting three hours for an interview, and finally left in frustration when it appeared obvious the Recruiter would not be available anytime soon.

I have clients who tell me these stories and ask me why this is happening.  I wish I had a simple answer.  I don’t.  I wish I could say these were isolated cases.  They aren’t.  Regrettably, they are indicative of a growing trend in which applicants are treated with a cavalier disdain and disregard that is both unprofessional and unethical.  However, as someone who has spent over thirty years in Human Resources, and has hired over five hundred people during his career, I do have some theories on why this is happening.

Understanding a Company’s Recruitment Function

In a typical Human Resources Department Recruitment is often the most junior function.  Employees in this role are usually the least experienced in the Department, possess the least education, have only a cursory knowledge of the company or its corporate culture, business, products or services.  Invariably, no one has taken the time to properly orient them in business etiquette and protocols.  Left to their own devices they make it up as they go along, which invariably means scurrying around to meet deadlines with little or no regard to things like courtesy, follow-up and communication.

Show me a well-managed, professional company and I guarantee you that the Recruitment function is managed by someone who is experienced, properly trained and an exemplary representative of that organization.  How a company treats applicants is a reflection of both who they are and what they value. Too often, employers don’t understand that today’s applicant is tomorrow’s consumer.  Instead of investing huge sums on increasingly sophisticated applicant tracking systems companies would be better off diverting some of these funds to hiring and training competent recruiters who not only understand what they are doing but recognize the critical role they have in promoting their firm’s brand.

More often than not, Recruiters hide behind their applicant tracking systems.  I am continually amazed at the number of Recruiters who, when I ask them how many applicants they personally meet with or speak to directly in a given month, often respond with “none”.  Recruitment has become depersonalized, and in the process the humanity and respect has been stripped from the process.  Applicants now are nothing more than pieces on a chessboard to be moved around and manipulated at will.  Courtesy, follow up, timely responses and feedback no longer factor into the recruitment model.

My Worst Experience

Earlier in my career I recall being contacted by the Vice President of Human Resources for a major pharmaceutical company who wanted to meet me to discuss an employment opportunity with his company.  I accepted his invitation to breakfast at a hotel near Toronto’s Pearson Airport.  Our breakfast meeting was scheduled for 7:30 a.m.  I got to the hotel about 7:10 a.m., took a seat in the restaurant, ordered coffee, and waited.  7:30 came and went, as did 7:45, 8:00, 8:15, and 8:30.  At 8:40 he finally showed up, curtly introduced himself, offered no apology for his tardiness, ordered coffee, asked me three perfunctory questions, and then claimed he had a meeting to go to and left abruptly without so much as a “sorry”….and stiffed me with the bill!

Today, whenever I am in a drugstore purchasing an over the counter product, I make it a habit to read the manufacturer’s label, and wherever possible, go out of my way to avoid purchasing this firm’s products.  If asked for an opinion on this employer I openly discourage people from applying.

The Critical Question:  Speak Up or Suck it Up?

What should be done about bad recruitment practices?  Are applicants supposed to just sit there and “suck it up”?  My simple answer:  hell no!  Here is what I advocate.

  • Stop being a victim.  If you are getting the run-around from a Recruiter or a Hiring Manager who does not return your calls or e-mails, or if you were badly treated in an interview, you should speak up.  Post a comment on Glass Door, Rate my Employer or Indeed;
  • Get hold of the e-mail address of the President and CEO and send them a message describing in clear detail what happened, the treatment you received, and why this was unacceptable.  Mention that it reflects poorly on their company, their image and their brand.  Wait three days.  If that doesn’t elicit a response take the same e-mail and forward it to the Chairman of their Board of Directors;
  • Check to see if the Recruiter or Hiring Manager is a member of a Human Resources Professional Association (or any other professional HR association where you live).  If they are, call up the head of that association’s professionals standards department and describe your experiences.  Follow up with a detailed e-mail;
  • If you go to a networking function tell those in attendance about your experience.  If you can deter someone else from experiencing the same treatment you received it is your moral right to do so.

A Final Observation

In life it takes two things to be victimized.  It takes someone who takes advantage of another person, and it takes someone who is vulnerable to abuse and who won’t fight back.  It is time that applicants spoke out about these shameless antics and called rogue recruiters and employers out for unprofessional conduct.  Harassment and disrespect have no place in today’s workplace, and that same standard applies equally to job applicants.



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